Jet Spikers make 2016 their banner year
The Philippine Air Force Jet Spikers enjoying the fruit of their labor.
Philippine Air Force, its explosive spikers made more explosive by its brilliant setter, dominated local men’s volleyball this year, capping a three-title romp with a sweep of archrival Cignal Tv in the best-of-three battle for the gold in the season-ending Spikers’ Turf Third Conference at Philsports Arena in Pasig City.
The Jet Spikers, convincing winners of the Open Conference in July and the AFP-PNP-PCG in September, were even more awesome throughout their campaign in the six-team Third Conference of the trailblazing league in men’s volleyball organized by Sports Vision, the same outfit behind the immensely popular Shakey’s V-League where today’s brightest names in women’s volleyball have started, honed their spurs, and left bathed in glory.
Gaining more teeth with its acquisition of tall and young Bryan Bagunas of National University, Air Force steamrollered the opposition in the preliminary with a 4-1 card, then went on to dethrone Cignal by taking Game 1 (25-23, 25-19, 19-25, 25-27, 15-12) and Game 2 (20-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-22) in a pair of classic encounters that left fans of both squads limp in excitement and yearning for more.
Champion Supra also swept Instituto Estetico Manila in their separate playoff – and own raging rivalry – for third place. IEM had humbled the Richard Gomez-owned ballclub in the first and only men’s tournament put up by the V-League a few years back.
At least three special awards given out in the Third Conference, which had Accel as official outfitter and Mikasa as official ball, each went to both finalists, who just closed out another exciting chapter in their smoldering rivalry.
Airman Howard Mojica was chosen MVP and 1st Best Outside Spiker while teammate Jessie Lopez repeated as Best Setter, an award he won in the 2015 and 2016 Open Conferences as well. And Bagunas, in his first ever appearance in any commercial league, bagged a fourth award for Air Force by emerging as the finals MVP.
Awardees for the Cignal HD Spikers were Sandy Montero (Best Libero), Lorenzo Capate Jr. (2nd Best Outside Spiker), and Peter Torres (2nd Best Middle Blocker).
“I told you so,” said Air Force assistant coach Dante Alinsunurin after Game 2 of the Third Conference finals in reference to his early fearless forecast that there was no way Cignal could beat them this year. “With a complete lineup further beefed up by Howard and Fauzi (Ismail) early this year and by Bryan later, I’d like to say it will be difficult to beat us.”
Alinsunurin so demanded perfection from the Jet Spikers that their only loss (to Champion Supra when they were already assured of a seat in the Final Four) riled him. But coach Rhovyl Verayo was unruffled.
“What’s important is that we’re already in the semis,” he had said after their perfect run in the elimination was halted at 4.
But in the Final Four where they swept IEM and Cignal in the finals later, they showed how seemingly invincible they were. Anytime they were threatened, a new hero would surface to lead them. If it was not Mark Gil
Alfafara, it’d be Mojica or Bagunas, to add to the consistency of Lopez and Jeffrey Malabanan.
Counting their meetings since the 2015 Open Conference, Air Force is ahead 10-4 in their head-to-head duels with Cignal.
The Jet Spikers won three of their four encounters in the Open Conference last year which was ruled by PLDT Home Ultera. After splitting their preliminary and semifinal matches, Air Force swept Cignal in their playoff for the bronze.
In the Reinforced Conference in the same year they went 2-2, but the HD Spikers won the most important games, Games 2 and 3 of the best-of-three championship.
With a complete lineup further strengthened by Mojica and Ismail in this year’s Open Conference, Air Force dropped its first match against Cignal in the elimination but got back at the latter by sweeping their championship series.
In a dominant display of firepower, the Jet Spikers went 3-0 against their nemesis, once in the preliminary and twice more in their best-of-three title playoff.